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Project 629

Warren Paul Glover

Bo burst through the front door of her house and found her father sitting before a makeshift altar, about to light a paper effigy in that familiar, heartbreakingly sad ritual of his.

            “Father, father! Come quickly! Wang Lei has set himself on fire.”

            Her father barely moved. There was only Bo’s panting breath to be heard. At last Ji deigned to turn his head.

 “Close the door, child. I can smell the stench of burning flesh from here. It’s too late to help him now.”

            Exasperated, Bo went back to the door and slammed it shut. The noise reverberated around the normally quiet dwelling, making Ji jump. The back draught of air swirled the incense around the room. The smell was sweet, although the atmosphere between them was bitter.

            “Father! How can you just sit here and let this happen? While our friends and neighbours suffer you...” 

            “Control your anger, child. I’m about to summon mother.”

            Bo sank down to the floor and buried her head in her hands. “ choose a kind of death. It would be better if you devoted yourself to God and retired to a monastery.”

            “There will be none of that talk in this house!” 

They glared at each other. Bo broke her gaze first, struggling to stem the wave of tears threatening to overwhelm her. Ji turned away and resumed his preparation of the effigy. Bo wiped her wet cheeks and crawled across the floor towards her father. When she was close enough, she reached out her hand and clasped his shoulder.

            “Father, please. You have to let go.”

            Ji ignored his daughter’s hand and lit the paper effigy. Once fire had taken hold he released it and watched it rise towards the ceiling. He then prostrated himself in front of the altar, upon which rested a cup of rice, an offering, and waited. Bo turned away and lay down, covering her face.

            The sound of a wind chime announced the arrival of Chan’s ghost.

            “Welcome, beloved wife,” Bo heard Ji say. 

Drying her eyes, Bo sat up and turned around to face her mother’s spirit.

            “You seem sad, child. What’s wrong?” the ghost of her mother asked.

Bo gazed on the spectral figure attired in traditional Chinese dress and forced a smile. 

“Mother, you know I love you, even though I’ve never felt your touch or shared with you the joys of this earthly life.”

            Chan’s ghost bowed its head.

            “Your presence here, in this house,” Bo said, spreading out her arms, “has always been a comfort to father and I. But...”

            “Silence, child,” her father cut her off.

 “No, father! I can’t do this anymore. The deadline is tomorrow. You have to say your goodbye now.”

            “Goodbye?” Chan’s ghost repeated, its visage looking as perturbed as if Chan was with them in the room in the flesh.

            “Ignore the child, beloved,” Ji said. “She knows not of what she speaks.”              Bo indignantly got to her feet. She stared at her mother’s apparition. “Father is too afraid to tell you that the Communist Party, your precious party, is evicting us from our home tomorrow.”

            Ji’s arm flew out and gripped Bo’s calf. He squeezed hard. 

“Silence, child!”          

“It’s time to face the truth, father!” Bo shouted as she struggled to free herself. “And

I’m not a child. I’m nearly eighteen. I’m a woman now.”

Ji released his grip on his daughter. Bo skipped away from his reach.

“Mother, this is the last you will see of either of us. Tomorrow we leave this house.

Either poor or, if not rich, at least in a position to start afresh. If father will allow it.”

Ji pounded the floor with his fist. 

“We will never leave this house! We will never abandon your mother.”

Just then there was an urgent rapping on the front door. Chan’s ghost faded away. Ji

got to his feet. 

“Whoever it is, get rid of them,” he commanded.

Bo hurried to the door and opened it to Fang, a bureaucrat from the Department of Housing who was becoming frustratingly familiar these days. Fang pushed past her into the house.

“Greetings, comrades. Mmmm, the smell of jasmine here is much more preferable to that of barbecued human meat outside. For the life of me, I can’t understand why you fellows would rather kill yourselves than accept our generous compensation package.”

He turned his attention to Bo. His beady eyes seemed to have a twinkle in them, she thought. Fang touched his throat. 

“May I have a glass of water?”

Bo nodded her head and went away to fetch one, leaving Fang and her father alone.

Fang wasted no time in getting down to business. “Have you signed the documents I gave you yet?”

Ji glared at Fang.

“No, and I’ll not sign. This house has been in my family for generations. It was taken from us once, during the Cultural Revolution. Never again.”

“But you can move to a more modern home,” Fang offered as he glanced around the room.

“My wife died in this house. I shall not leave her.”

Fang was about to say something when Bo returned with a glass of water. He regarded her like a hungry tiger.

“Thank you,” he said as he took the glass and drank. “Ah! That’s better. It’s thirsty work trying to talk all you stubborn mules into doing what’s good for you.” 

The remark was met with silence. Fang looked again around the room and noticed the


“You say your wife died here? I’m sorry for that, but I hope you are not clinging to the old ways, thinking her spirit is somehow tied to this house?”

Ji and Bo exchanged nervous glances. 

“Ancestor worship is fit only for superstitious peasants,” Fang concluded. “No,” Bo answered, “we respect ghosts and gods, but we keep away from them.” Fang turned towards her.

“Do you respect the Party too? If you do, you should do the decent thing. The right thing, both for the Party and for yourselves.”  Fang nodded his head in the direction of Ji.

“Make him sign the collection papers. There will be no compensation if he doesn’t sign.”

“Compensation?” The anger in Ji’s voice made both Fang and Bo turn around. “Do you really thing, comrade,” Ji laid heavy sarcasm on that last word, “that you can ever compensate me for stealing the house where I lost my wife and my daughter her mother?”

“Father, please. Calm down. It’s not his fault. He’s only doing his job.”

“You should listen to your daughter. She is wise,” said Fang, relieved at this defence from an unexpected ally. He turned towards Bo and smiled. “As well as beautiful,” he said, in a low voice so only she would hear. He turned back to Ji. “Besides, it’s just bricks and mortar. Age and time do not wait for people. And neither does the Government. Take the money. Invest in your daughter’s education. After all,” he said, leering at Bo before glancing at Ji’s makeshift altar, “learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.”

For Ji, this was too much.

“Just bricks and mortar? You have no idea,” he said as he raised his arm and pointed towards a window. “Do you know we have walnut and date trees in our courtyard that are over a hundred years’ old? Does your compensation reflect that?”

“You can’t stand in the way of progress,” Fang replied.

“What is it that’s being built here?” asked Bo. “What is so important that the Government wants us out? There are thousands of families living in this district, so it must be costing the Party a pretty penny?”

“I can’t say. It’s confidential,” Fang said.

“You don’t know?” pressed Bo.

“Of course he doesn’t know. He’s just a dogsbody. A jobsworth,” Ji taunted.

“Is it a palace for the Politburo?” teased Bo.

“May I caution you not to be disrespectful to the Party, young lady?” Fang said.

“You may not. My mother was an enthusiastic member of the Communist Party, wasn’t she father?”

“Fat lot of good it did her,” Ji spat. “She’d turn in her grave if she knew what the

Party was doing now. This is a betrayal!”

“Comrades!” Fang pleaded.

“Is it a bomb shelter? A nuclear bunker?” Bo persisted.

“I’m not at liberty to say what Project 629 is. It’s top secret,” declared Fang, recovering some poise.

Bo sidled closer to Fang. She caressed his cheek and snuggled up to him. Fang was caught between wanting more of this minx and pushing her away.

“I bet it’s a brothel for all you bureaucrats,” Bo said. “It’s the only way you’ll ever find any love.”

“Go to your room, child!” Ji shouted, ashamed at his daughter’s behaviour. “And you! Get out of my house,” he shouted at Fang.

Fang gathered his composure. “I’ll be back at nine for the papers. Sign them, or be out on your ear,” he said, before taking a step towards Bo. Before she could move away Fang seized hold of Bo’s cheeks in one hand. He squeezed hard as he stared into her eyes. “Feisty.

I like that. Until tomorrow.” He released Bo from his grip and left the house.

“I hate that man. I hate the Communist Party,” Bo screamed. “I wish they would leave us alone.” She threw herself down on to a sofa.

Ji sat beside her and began to tenderly stroke her hair, as he used to when she was a

little girl.

“Take a nap, child. Things always seem better after a sleep.”

“There’s only one thing that will make this better,” Bo began, before being shushed by her father, who held a finger to his lips in command. 

Ji then began to sing a lullaby, and Bo settled down and closed her eyes. Ji finished the lullaby and checked to see that Bo was asleep. Satisfied, he got to his feet and walked over to a cupboard. He took out some documents and a length of rope. Ji took them to the table and sat down on a stool. He took out a pen as he perused the documents.

“For you, dear daughter,” he said as he signed the documents with a heavy sigh.

Ji looked around the room, savouring his memories. When he had had his fill he went to Bo’s sleeping form, kissed her gently and made the sign of a blessing. He then went back to the table, picked up the rope and stool and went outside to the courtyard.

Bo was awakened from her sleep by the thud of a stool being kicked over. 

“Father?” she asked dreamily as she raised herself onto her elbow and listened.

Hearing nothing more she settled herself back down and went back to sleep.

The sound of wind chimes woke Bo for a second time. On this occasion, however, Bo sat bolt upright and her hand flew to cover her mouth as she saw the ghosts of her mother and father, holding hands and smiling.

“Our beautiful daughter,” her mother said.

“You are free now, child,” said Ji’s ghost. “We will watch over you, wherever you are.”

Bo leapt to her feet and ran out into the courtyard. She found her father hanging from the walnut tree, the stool kicked away. Bo screamed.

Bo walked back into the house from the courtyard clutching a bowl of dates and walnuts. It was morning, and thanks to the help of some neighbours, Ji’s body had been cut down and taken away. There was a knock at the door. Bo opened it to Fang. She let him inside.

“Has he signed?” Fang demanded as he looked around for Ji.

“He has,” Bo smiled at him.

She led Fang to the table. He picked up the documents and perused them.

“He’s stipulated that the money goes to you,” Fang said, mildly surprised. “Where is he?”

Bo bowed her head. Fang gazed at the young woman before him.

“I’m sorry,” he said. He looked around the house as an uncomfortable silence stood between them. He gazed at Bo again. “But, life goes on. Can I ask you for a date?”

Bo held out the bowl. Fang looked puzzled as he picked out a date, then he laughed.

“That’s not what I meant.”

Bo was smiling when she raised her head and their eyes met.

“I’ll go out with you if you tell me what Project 629 is,” she said.

Fang looked around the room, conspiratorially. He beckoned Bo with his finger.

“Come closer. All walls have ears. I’ll whisper it to you.”

Bo moved closer to Fang. Fang bent down and whispered in Bo’s ear. Her eyes grew wide and her mouth fell open as she dropped the bowl of dates and walnuts to the floor.

Then there was the sound of wind chimes.




Warren Paul Glover is an English writer/screenwriter/actor/director living in Sydney, Australia. Warren has had several poems and short stories published and broadcast on radio, has won three screenwriting competitions (in the UK, Canada and the USA) and directed two short films. He is currently writing a feature film, a play and a novel.

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